Red Bull star enters the title race with masterful drive in the wet
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing established themselves as Jenson Button’s biggest threat in this year’s world championship with a formidable victory and 1-2 finish ahead of the Brawn GP drivers in an eventful Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Vettel didn’t need to overtake Jenson Button on Lap 41 of the rain-hit race, such was his dominance and searing pace in the wet, not to mention his level-headedness in the context of treacherous conditions and two safety car periods. A few laps more and the Brawn driver would peel off into the pit lane for his final stop. But a brilliant move down the inside of the Briton at the hairpin, with nothing in view but spray, confirmed Vettel’s reputation as a natural racer and sealed the victory. 40 seconds was the magin over Button at the chequred flag.
The German youngster, still in only his second full season of Formula One – his first with Red Bull Racing – led from pole position under the safety car and never looked back, gifting Red Bull Racing their first victory since entering the sport in 2005.
“It s unbelievable I m so, so happy,” exulted the 21-year-old after the race. “Ten laps from the end I tried to control the gap between me and the car behind and adapt my pace. I was trying to have everything under control, but it was difficult.”
“At some points I was trying to bring the car home, but that meant I lost focus, so then I just tried to take it corner by corner, not looking too far ahead.”
“On the last two laps I backed off a bit, as I didn t want to risk aquaplaning on the water at the side of the track. And thenâ€¦ well it s just fantastic.”
Teammate Mark Webber was equally impressive in the sister Red Bull, keeping the Brawn GP drivers at bay to seal a 1-2 finish for the Milton-Keynes based outfit. It was a result that hung in the balance with fears that a drive shaft failure, which hampered the team throughout the weekend, could rear its head again in the race.
“We were absolutely shitting ourselves that the cars wouldn t finish the race because everytime we ran yesterday, they stopped,” Webber disclosed. “So, it s incredible to get the cars home and to get maximum points. This comes after the near misses in Australia for Sebastian and for myself in Malaysia. It s a great day for the team in Milton Keynes, well done and thank you to them, and also to everyone in Austria.”
With the team yet to accommodate a split-diffuser onto their car, believed to be worth around half a second a lap in performance, Vettel’s win undoubtedly brings him and the team into contention for this year’s title battle.
Behind the Brawn GP drivers, McLaren finally had something to smile about with Heikki Kovalainen heading Lewis Hamilton in fifth and sixth after the pair negotiated a fraught final few laps unscathed. But it was a scrappy race for Lewis Hamilton who spun no fewer than three times on worn tyres.
“I made a few too many mistakes today,” said the defending world champion. “It was very slippery and my front-left tyre was finished long before the end but I still gave it my best. This afternoon was a real struggle but I m glad I got some points for the team.â€
Ferrari’s nightmare start to the season continued as Felipe Massa, who found himself running as high as third place, stopped out on the track on Lap 21 with a mechanical problem. Kimi Raikkonen meanwhile was nowhere without his KERS device, repeatedly overtaken on the back straight by Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Beumi, and Timo Glock among others. The Finn eventually classified twelfth. Ferrari’s third consecutive no-show makes this the worst start to a season for the Scuderia since their 1981 campaign.
Toyota’s Timo Glock and Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Beumi picked up the final points paying positions thanks largely to the mistakes of other drivers.
With rain throughout the morning getting progressively heavier as the race start loomed, officials had little choice but to start the grand prix behind the safety car. The rolling start lasted a full eight laps before the safety car peeled off into pit lane. Fernando Alonso, who fuelled the lightest in qualifying to take second place, used the opportunity to pit for fresh rubber and to fuel longer into the race.
That left the Red Bull pairing leading the Brawn GP cars as the race re-started. The order stayed un-changed at the front as Vettel and Webber used their lighter fuel loads to pull out a cushion over the Brawn drivers.
Mark Webber was the first of the front-runners to pit for fuel and fresh set of wet rubber tyres. He came in on lap 14 and rejoined in sixth place behind Felipe Massa. Vettel promptly followed his teammate into the having built up a gap of around ten seconds over second place man Jenson Button.
Button, sensing his moment, put the hammer down and set a searing pace in his Brawn GP car, setting consecutive fastest laps. The Briton was aided by the deployment of the safety car on Lap 18 when Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber ploughed into the back of Jarno Trulli Toyota’s at the last corner.
Button immediately pitted and rejoined in second place, behind Vettel. The Red Bull driver was having a moment of his own though. Adhering to to the minimum lap time required under safety car conditions, he slowed down on the back straight, only to be punted by Sebastian Beumi in Red Bull’s sister car.
Vettel emerged from the incident unscathed, minus some carbon-fibre, to lead the field under the safety car, ahead of Button and Webber, while Rubens Barrichello, who was delayed in the pits due to following his teammate, dropped to sixth place.
Vettel then proceeded to set a blistering pace out in front, pulling out a lead over nearly twenty seconds over Jenson Button. Webber was similarly thriving in the wet conditions and passed and re-passed Button for second place.
“After the second safety car stint, I had a good scrap with Jenson,” recounted the Aussie. “On my official lap at the front, I couldn t believe how clear it was – I thought â€˜Oh my God, it s beautiful! I then pushed like hell to make up as much time as possible it was fantastic.”
“When Jenson re-passed me, I was very keen to try win the race, so I passed him around Turn seven as I knew he wouldn t know I would be there, it was one of the best moves of my career. I m happy today!â€
Button held the lead after both Red Bull drivers had pitted, but it was short lived as Sebastian Vettel stormed past at Turn 13.
The Briton’s final pit-stop dropped him back to third place behind both Red Bull’s and when Vettel took the chequered flag his lead was over forty seconds, confirming the underlying pace of the RB5.
Besides Felipe Massa and Jarno Trulli, notable casulaties included Williams driver’ Kazuki Nakajima and Force India’s Adrian Sutil.
Sutil, known for his wet weather driving was running as high as sixth place in the closing stages, when he crashed hiis Force India heavily at Turn 6. Nakjima meanwhile spun twice and eventually retired in the pits.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:57:43.485 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 10.970 3 Jenson Button Brawn 44.975 4 Rubens Barrichello Brawn 1:03.704 5 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren 1:05.102 6 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:11.866 7 Timo Glock Toyota 1:14.476 8 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1:16.439 9 Fernando Alonso Renault 1:24.309 10 Nick Heidfeld BMW 1:31.750 11 Sebastien Bourdais Toro Rosso 1:34.156 12 Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen Ferrari 1:35.834 13 Robert Kubica BMW 1:46.853 14 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India at 1 lap 15 Nico Rosberg Williams at 1 lap 16 Nelson Piquet Renault at 2 laps 17 Adrian Sutil Force India out 18 Kazuki Nakajima Williams out 19 Felipe Massa Ferrari out 20 Jarno Trulli Toyota out